Today I’m offering up some odds and ends. I’ve intended to write a separate post for most of these shows and movies that I’ve lately enjoyed (or in many cases, enjoyed for the fourth or fifth time), but the days are waning and I’m experiencing an increasingly desperate need to push these recommendations on you as soon as possible. Much of the below is available free-streaming, because that’s how I relish most of my entertainment. Cheaply, and from the pajamas-clad comfort of my couch.
Batman: Under the Red Hood
2010, USA, available on Netflix Watch Instantly
Red Hood tells a good story very well, with an easy pace and stunning action sequences. A new, sinister vigilante in Gotham goes by the name of Red Hood, and he seems to have it out for Batman and Nightwing, née Dick Grayson. The mystery is a tad obvious, but the plot’s a ton of fun, and the 75 minute animated movie flies by. The voice cast is outstanding, with Bruce Greenwood as the Bat, Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing, John DiMaggio (Bender!) as The Joker, and most especially and delightfully, Jensen Ackles as Red Hood. Ackles can do no wrong in my eyes (okay, except for My Bloody Valentine), and Under the Red Hood has me convinced that he should do loads more voice work—although it’d be a shame to hide that pretty face and those sculpted shoulders for too long.
2010-present, UK, Series 1 available on Netflix Watch Instantly
Written and created by Julian Fellowes of Gosford Park, the UK series tells the story of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in 19-teens Britain. After the heir to the estate dies on the Titanic, the family (including the great Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess) has to rethink the line of their inheritance. The series is drily humorous, witty, romantic and filled with intrigue. Poison! Illicit affairs! Thievery! Outrageously stunning dresses that inspire my fierce avarice!
2010, USA, no longer available online so rent it old-school, yo
Written by Bert V. Royal and directed by Will Gluck, Easy A is a charming, warm-hearted love letter to John Hughes. If I haven’t recommended this movie to you already (highly unlikely, because I kind of don’t shut up about it), it’s an oversight that I must rectify immediately. Emma Stone is totally endearing, connecting to the audience with a dry, breezy effortlessness that makes the entire movie a huge success. And Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci are absolutely delightful as her quirky, post-hippie parents.
Fooly Cooly (FLCL)
2001, Japan, available on Netflix Watch Instantly
I recently revisited FLCL and was pleased to discover that it definitely holds up. Tween Naota is a normal little dude until he meets hot, crazy, Vespa-riding, guitar-toting Haruko. Naota starts sprouting a horn from his forehead, but that’s only the first bit of wackiness that ensues with Haruko’s mysterious meddling. No spoilers here, except to promise you that this series is really, super fun.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
1953, USA, available on Netflix Watch Instantly
After rewatching Gentlemen for the first time since I was a kid, I was blown away by how fresh and funny it is. Marilyn Monroe is a riot as the sharp-where-it-counts airhead and Jane Russell plays perfectly off her as the wry, nonchalant, flirtatious best friend. The two ladies have a kick-ass friendship that outshines their various dalliances with the fellas, and the musical numbers are fun and natural.
Ip Man/Ip Man 2
When I saw Ip Man 2 at Fantastic Fest last year, I literally sat on the very edge of my seat, clutching my hands in front of my chest in rapture and occasionally pumping my fist in the air in exultation. Afterward, I hauled ass to Mondo to buy the first film sight unseen, and I now own both and watch them on the regular. Donnie Yen is a revelation as real-life Wing Chun instructor Ip Man (who later taught Bruce Lee all those badass moves), and the fight choreography by the legendary Sammo Hung is like nothing you’ve ever seen. This isn’t glossy, special effects-laden wire fu. This shit is REAL. Bonus: Sammo actually stars in the second film with Yen, making it my favorite for the tabletop fight scene alone.
2010, UK, available on Netflix Watch Instantly
I know, you’ve almost definitely seen this movie, but just in case I actually wasn’t the last person alive to see Gareth Edwards’ indie alien invasion flick, I have to pass it on. Monsters is gorgeous and tragic and honest. Edwards filmed the entire movie in a renegade style, using the window of his van as a camera dolly, having his two actors improvise scenes with random passersby in Mexico and creating all of the (very impressive) visual effects shots himself on his computer in his bedroom. None of this appears in the polished final product, but it’s certainly notable. But as beautiful and well-told as the film certainly is, I have to say that I hate the title. Even though it obviously begs the question “Who are the REAL monsters here?”, I think the film deserves a more substantial handle.
2004-2005, UK, not available online so rent it old-school, yo
Nighty Night probably isn’t a show for everyone, but it’s one that I can (and do) watch over and over. It’s filled with terrible people doing despicable things with no twinges of regret or inclination to redeem themselves, so if that’s your cup of tea, this is the show for you. Julia Davis writes and stars as Jill Tyrrell, a hideously inept hairstylist who decides it’s time to trade up when she learns that her husband Terry has been stricken with (totally curable) cancer. She stashes Terry in a sanitarium, tells everyone he’s dead and moves on to the new man in town, the utterly forgettable Don. Unfortunately, Don’s already married to Cathy, a wheelchair-bound church-goer who suffers from MS. Jill makes it her mission to destroy Cathy and seduce Don. It’s awesome.
RuPaul’s Drag Race
2009-present, USA, all three seasons available on logotv.com
Drag Race is the only reality competition show I watch these days, largely because it takes all the best parts of the best shows of its kind and adds glitter, falsies and RuPaul, the wittiest and most charming host on the planet. The show has creative and interesting challenges, terrific guest hosts and wardrobes to die for, all in the name of discovering America’s Next Drag Superstar. As if, hah!, anyone could ever replace RuPaul. Drag Race is a blast and wholly addictive. Check it!
2010-present, UK, Series 1 available on Netflix Watch Instantly
Benedict Cumberbatch’s sexy portrayal of the madly brilliant detective is the best in the character’s history, and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson is his drolly perfect foil. Sherlock is set in modern day with nostalgic throwbacks that fit in seamlessly with the edgier violence and mystery. The second ep is only okay, but the first is wonderful and the third is absolutely divine. Series 1 ends on a cliffhanger that has me positively aching for the second series, but it’s not likely to air until spring at the earliest. In the meantime, watch these 90-minute episodes immediately and often, as I have!
Solid Potato Salad clip
From the movie Broadway Rhythm, 1944, USA
Whenever I have a YouTube party with my friends, I always bust out this little number. Guys, just watch it. Don’t ask questions. Watch it until the end. (thanks @jyondarisu for the clip!)
1984, USA, available on Netflix Watch Instantly
I can’t believe it took me 27 years to watch Starman. John Carpenter’s sci-fi romance starring Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen (my all-time girl crush!) is poignant and suspenseful, with great manual effects and an often hilarious, always touching performance by Bridges. Allen’s husband has recently passed away, and as she’s dealing with her grief, a UFO crashes near her home. The alien takes on the appearance of her late husband—Bridges—and the two road trip together to get him to safety. Starman is really sweet and funny, but has enough rad sci-fi stuff to keep it from becoming too mushy. I seriously dig it.
1994-1995, USA, not available online so rent it old-school, yo
When was the last time you watched The Critic? I loved my recent revisiting of the series, as so many of the fake movies Jay Sherman (Jon Lovitz) mocks are actually real movies by now, because Hollywood is that pathetic! Jay and the writers behind the show constantly rail against the stupidity and convention of Hollywood, and Jay’s lackluster love life, bizarre family and schlubby little appearance only add to the charm of the show. The Critic will always be a classic example of a show that was too clever and too interesting for American television audiences, and so it will live forever next to Freaks and Geeks and Party Down in the most hallowed spot on my DVD shelves.
So there you have it! Tomorrow is the weekend, and it’s too damned hot to do anything outside. Put on your jim-jams, heat up a frozen pizza and curl up with at least two of the above recs. You won’t be sorry!